Standing quietly in a water-meadow on the flood plain of the River Thames, is a very special ancient tree. This evergreen giant is a survivor – a lone tree that has borne witness to countless generations. It is the oldest known tree on National Trust land. This is the Ankerwycke Yew.
Beneath a veil of dark, shaggy needles; is a colossal, colourful trunk. The girth exceeds 9 meters (over 29 ½ feet!) While its exact age is unknown, estimates have placed it between 2000 and 2500 years old. But this iconic yew is significant not just because of its age. Many believe it is the exact location where King John signed the Magna Carta in 1215.
Surrounded by myth and legend, it is also widely believed that beneath the boughs of this tree, King Henry VIII began his first liaisons with his future ill-fated wife Anne Boleyn in the 1530’s.
Yew tree wood is unusually colourful – with rich purple and lilac tones. The ancient twists of its wood rings and gnarled, thick bark; add to the tree’s mystique and haunting beauty.
Yew trees have held spiritual significance through the ages. They were admired and considered lucky by the Celts who made shields and weapons from yew wood – believing the longevity and strength of the yew would be transferred to the warrior.
In celebration of the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in 2002; The Tree Council designated the Ankerwycke Yew one of 50 ‘Great British Trees’ – in recognition of its importance to National Heritage.
So if you find yourself hiking off the beaten track in search of a calm and contemplative place; you would be hard-pushed to find a better place than with this tree – an ancient living legend.
[You can find more information from The National Trust on the location, care and upkeep of the Ankerwyck Yew – including recent root radar mapping here. For a short film on this lovely old tree, click here.]